In a word, New Dakotas’ sound is upbeat; their music rests happily somewhere at the intersection of pop and rock. Save for the strong Fleet Foxes influence on “Warming Song,” from the EP the band released this January, New Dakotas’ brand of pop is harmony driven and easy to sing and move to. Their eponymous EP, released at the beginning of 2017, is available on Bandcamp, Spotify, and Soundcloud. Check out what Tufts student Charles Winston and Harvard students Alasdair MacKenzie and Chris Haley had to say about their music:
We are Chris, Alasdair, and Charles, and together we are New Dakotas.
I know that Alasdair and Charles have known each other for quite some time. How long have you two known each other? How did you come to start playing music together? What were your first musical collaborations like?
Alasdair: The two of us met at a battle of the bands at the Boston Hard Rock Café in 8th or 9th grade, and we started making music together near the end of 10th grade, in a band put together by a mutual friend. The first song we wrote together was about a violent massacre on Halloween. Our best days are behind us. Then, later in high school, Chris and I first encountered each other on opposing teams in an ultimate frisbee game. Chris was the captain of his team, while I was the LVP (least valuable player) of mine. But we ended up at the same college, and we played in a few different musical projects together before Chris joined New Dakotas.
How have you evolved as a collaborative group/project over time?
Chris: I’d say we’ve moved toward trying to write songs with strong beats and easily singable melodies. A lot of the music that we love is relatively beat-less and hook-less, but we want people singing along and dancing at our shows, so we try to make our songs upbeat and catchy.
Congratulations on releasing an EP earlier this year! What do you want people to know about this project as they listen to it?
Charles: Why, thank you! We’d like people to know about the guest appearances by the three other musicians who played on the EP. Alasdair and Chris’s friend Ryan Song plays cello on “Warming Song,” my friend Sam Atallah plays trumpet on “Roll It Later,” and Tufts’s guitar god, Trevor LaVecchia (also my suite mate), plays on “I Can’t Spin It” and “Turn My Head Around.” Keep an ear out for them if you’re listening. They make the songs a lot cooler than they’d be otherwise.
What’s been the hardest part about working on this project?
Alasdair: The hardest part of working on the EP has probably been getting people to listen to it. Making it was a lot of fun and it happened fairly quickly, but now we need the rest of the world to be as excited about our music as we are. So listen and tell your friends!
How would you describe your sound?
Charles: Our recordings are pretty much always densely layered. It’s easy to record rhythm section instruments (bass and drums), chordal instruments (guitars and keyboards), and lead singing for a song and then feel like you’re all done, but we try to add more to our music than just those sounds. We’ll record harmony singing, percussion instruments like castanets and maracas, and even things that aren’t strictly musical, like breathing or whispering. It’s fun to brainstorm extra things to put on a recording, and often the things we come up with end up being our favorite parts of the songs. Chris is into the “ha ha-ha” backup singing in “I Can’t Spin It,” Alasdair loves the rhythmic breath sounds in the verses of “Turn My Head Around,” and I’m a big fan of the talking in “Warming Song,” and those are all things we thought of in the studio after the main instruments and singing had been recorded.
Describe your songwriting process. Is there a main songwriter in the group or do you each write the music?
Alasdair: Charles and I are the main writers, and we write music and lyrics both together and separately. Every New Dakotas song has writing input from both of us–we won’t record even a song that is mostly mine until Charles has signed off on it, and vice versa–and arrangement input from all three of us.
Name an artist that you’ve recently gotten into, an artist that you come back to again and again, and an artist that your friends would be surprised to know you like.
Chris: George Harrison, Dawes, N.W.A.
Alasdair: Richard and Linda Thompson, Emmylou Harris, DJ Lucas
Charles: Khalid, Mac Demarco, Shakira
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Chris: We dream of one day arriving to a show early enough that we have time for a pre-show ritual.
Is it hard to collaborate when you go to different schools?
Charles: Not really. We are only two red line stops and a short walk apart, and a lot of our writing collaboration happens digitally. Alasdair and I text each other iPhone voice memo recordings of new ideas and suggested changes to each other’s ideas, so distance is often not a factor in the difficulty of writing together.
What has been the weirdest inspiration for a song?
Alasdair: “I Can’t Spin It” was written about a broken fidget spinner that Chris bought from a street vendor. He never got a refund and he’s still very sad; it’s best not to bring it up around him.
What’s a song you wish you wrote?
Chris: “Time Spent In Los Angeles” by Dawes
Alasdair: “Thirteen” by Big Star
Charles: “Want You Back” by Haim
Are there plans for a full album in the works?
Chris: We’re working on a bunch of new recordings this summer, but we’ll probably release them as one or several EPs. We want to release music in short enough bursts that even people who are not our parents will consider listening to them all the way through.
In your wildest dreams, where would you like to see New Dakotas go as a project?
Alasdair: We’d love to have a group of dedicated fans. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge number of fans, just some dedicated ones.
Chris: All of the bands we’ve fallen in love with have become a part of our lives and have changed our lives in a lot of ways, and it would be great if we could have that kind of impact on some of our fans down the road.